Monday, October 12, 2020

52 Ancestors - NEWEST: Mary on the Move

STUFF found in the Davis attic

My newest source of information about my parents and maternal grandparents is the pile of “trash” that had been hidden away in my grandparents’ attic for 70 years until the newest owner discovered the secret attic while she was installing new insulation. That she bothered to find me through my blog rather than run to the nearest trash bin is a miracle in itself. Because the contents are priceless, my sister and I gladly took the boxes of stuff despite the dust and probable exposure to asbestos.

Letters Momma saved

Post cards, receipts, train schedules, school notebooks, and such were easy to go through. However, I am struggling to open the stacks and stacks of letters that my mother saved from her college days. The struggle is not due to the volume. The few letters I have read make me almost afraid to open others, afraid of what I might learn. I now know Momma’s best friend Betsy talked “like a sailor,” as the saying goes. She freely spouted off the BIG DADDY of curse words. It was the ultimate bad word in my day and has only in the last several years become a common part of dialogue in movies and television shows. Now I wonder about who that woman was before she became my mother. My mother was all about manners and morals and ladylike decorum.

Like my mother, I wrote to my friends and relatives while I was a college student. After all, what choice did we have then? There was no FaceTime or texting. Unlike my mother, though, I did not save a single letter, not even the letters from my then-boyfriend-now-husband.

It looks like Momma saved Every. Single. One. Some are tied in bundles. At first, I thought they were all from her high school beau, Dickie Blanks. But tucked in between Dickie’s news about Davidson College football and invitations to the dances, there were odds and ends of letters from Momma’s mother informing her that she was sending Momma a winter coat or letting her know she was heading to Shenandoah to visit relatives. In short, there seems to be nothing significant about the organization of her letters.

I will eventually read more of the letters, but for now I will share something I noticed that I had never been aware of before: the addresses of where my mother lived. My grandparents moved from Shenandoah to Portsmouth about 1940 when Granddaddy went to work for the shipyard. They rented in Cradock, a community within the City, and then they built their home on Gillis Road about 1950.

The letters show me that I was mistaken in thinking they always lived at 47 Farragut St, the address that Momma wrote on the inside cover of her high school yearbook. That is where they were in June 1946, the year Momma graduated from Cradock High School.

I'm pretty sure that was a white house at 47 Farragut
when my mother and grandparents lived there.

By August of the same year, they were at 8 Decatur St.

Duplexes like this on Decatur Street were typical 

I need to go through more letters to learn when they moved to 119 Gilmerton Boulevard, but at least by August 1948, that is where they were. I do not have a picture of their rented house or apartment. It took me a while to even find Gilmerton Boulevard. 
A few duplexes along what USED TO BE Gilmerton Blvd.
One may or may not be where Momma lived.
Her address was 119, but these numbers are all 4-digit.

Today there is a Gilmerton Avenue close to downtown Portsmouth and a Gilmerton Road in the neighboring city of Chesapeake. Since the envelope specified “Cradock, Portsmouth, Virginia,” I wondered which road it could be.

The streets where she lived

Then I found an old map laying out the community of Cradock. It turns out that Gilmerton Boulevard was the original name for the road I know as Victory Boulevard. It is a 4-lane highway now.

I was really surprised at this envelope addressed to my Grandfather at 38 Emmons Place in June 1949.


Apartment building 38 Emmons Place

Inside is Momma’s report card from her second semester at Madison College. OH WOW. That would not happen today. College students are viewed as adults with rights to privacy. It matters not who pays the tuition.

Amy Johnson Crow continues to challenge genealogy bloggers and non-bloggers alike to think about our ancestors and share a story or photo about them. The challenge is “
52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.”


© 2020, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.


  1. Interesting about Gilmerton Boulevard and Victory! Yeah Betsy’s letters are too much for me! Hahahaha!

  2. I think its kind of cool your mom saved all the letters. I think a lot of our parents might have had a "wild" streak in them that they might have tried to hide. I don't think your mom meant to hide that or she would have gotten rid of the letters, right?


  3. As you know, I have letters, letters and more letters. I've learned so much about my grandparents and now I'm working on my parents' letters. One thing I've learned is that my mother did NOT have the packrat gene because I've found no letters that my father wrote to her. Note, though, that once she married my father she became a card-carrying pack rat.

  4. History can be a mystery and you are such a good detective. Looking forward to learning more about what your mother wrote in those letters.